After many months of speculation about the Government’s proposals for European nationals currently living and working in the UK, the Government has now published its Policy Paper setting out its plans. This is welcome news to employers employing European nationals in their workforce. Whilst the terms of the Policy Paper are still, of course, subject to negotiation with the EU (and an expectation that they will be reciprocated), they do at least serve as a useful guide to the Government’s current stance.
It is critical that employers keep up-to-date with the latest information. During this period of uncertainty, reassurance of workers is likely to be key in order to prevent loss of talent and to ensure business needs can continue to be met. Employers should therefore have a plan for keeping on top of the latest developments and a communications strategy for liaising with their staff so that the workforce has accurate information about the latest position and knows where it can find out further details, both internally and from external sources. Regular meetings and/or notices, and the appointment of a go-to person within the organisation are both likely to be helpful in this regard.
Here is a summary of the key proposals at this stage:
- Until the UK leaves the EU, EU nationals will continue to have the same rights to live and work in the UK as they have now;
- At this stage, EU nationals do not need to apply for any documentation to evidence their right to stay in the UK. The existing regime will be replaced by a new process. European nationals may decide to access this new scheme before the UK’s exit from the EU but they do not have to do so. The new scheme is expected to be up and running in 2018;
- EU nationals, who have been continuously resident in the UK for at least 5 years by the cut-off date, will eventually be required to apply for a residence document (regardless of whether they already hold a certificate of permanent residence) which will be proof of their right to live and work in the UK. This residence document will give the individual a new ‘settled’ status;
- EU nationals, with settled status and at least 6 years’ residence in the UK, will be able to apply for British citizenship;
- EU nationals, who have been living in the UK for less than 5 years at the cut-off date, will eventually be required to apply for a temporary status to give them permission to remain in the UK. Once 5 years’ residence has been achieved, the individual will be able to apply for settled status;
- The Government plans to grant a period of ‘blanket residence permission’. This means that immediately upon the UK exiting the EU, all EU nationals already lawfully living in the UK will be given time to apply for their new immigration status. The timeframe is to be confirmed but is expected to be up to 2 years, primarily to avoid a rush for applications;
- Family members (including non-EU nationals) of European nationals who are resident in the UK before it exits the UK will also be eligible to apply for settled status (if resident for 5+ years) or leave to remain (if resident for less than 5 years);
- European nationals who come to live in the UK after the cut-off date will be subject to new rules which have yet to be confirmed. The Government has stated that whilst these EU nationals will be allowed to remain in the UK for a temporary period, they should not have any expectation of being guaranteed a right to remain in the UK;
- The application process to establish immigration status will be modernised and streamlined, and fees will be set at a reasonable level;
- For benefits purpose, European nationals with settled status will be treated in the same way as comparable UK nationals. European nationals with temporary leave to remain pending the achievement of settled status will be able to access benefits on the same basis as they do now (which is broadly comparable access for workers and limited access for those not working).